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December 08, 2006

Richard Florida

Rural creativity

« Conservatives and populists | Main | The Creative Compact »

How can rural areas bolster their ability to compete? That's a question I am frequently asked.

Now a fantastic paper by David McGranahan and Timothy Wojak of the USDA sheds important light on this issue. Honestly, this paper is so good at so many levels it blows me away.

McGranahan and Wojak supplement and test my creativity theory making two very important contributions.

  • First, they use detailed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on the functional requirements of more than a thousand job titles to improve upon my definition of creative occupations. This alone is a major undertaking and significant contribution in refining and more closely calibrating the definition of the creative class. Using this definition they find that: "The econometric test of the creative class provides strong support for the notion that creativity has an effect on growth independent of human capital." The results are considerably stronger using their revised and "tightened" measure of creative occupations.
  • Second, they extend the analysis to include rural as well as urban and metropolitan areas. Rural areas are competing for the creative class, according to their analysis. Their results show significant creative class concentrations in outlying suburban and rural areas. In rural settings, the creative class is drawn to more densely populated counties, active outdoor recreation, and other quality of place amenities. 

The study is here.


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Wow, thank you so much for posting this entry! Your timing could not be better, since I'm finishing my capstone and was beginning to feel rather guilty about finding this blog so interesting. (Furthermore, McGranahan is a researching "hero" of mine. I love his work.) Besides, the subject matter is bordering on an obsessive passion.

Their improvement on creative occupations is awesome. Overall, it was great to have my own (and other's) observations confirmed about the application of creative economy theory to rural regions. The issues of scale and natural capital finally provide more promising development options for rural regions. (n/t Sohodojo)

I do think some work needs to be done on the proxy measures used for authenticity. Sure, historical buildings can be measured,and it is a part of authenticity, but it does little to address the street-level dynamic. Again the differences between urban/rural communities may be more about scale. Walkability, cool architecture, public gathering spots are still important, regardless of location. "Basic human needs" kind of things. The extent to which rural town plans promote places for public gathering and interaction is probably more crucial for rural economies. Yes, we like our cafes and pubs, too- third places are crucial, but the agglomeration effects aren't to the scale of urban regions. Active and dynamic network development is absolutely necessary.

I do have one question:

A) if neither the share or change in the creative class is related to net migration,
B) growth in the creative class does not appear to have been affected by county employment growth or net migration,
C)yet there is a strong connection between area employment growth and growth in the creative class
than is entrepreneurship, specifically microenterprise, playing a role in this growth?

Another question- Do you think the regions faired poorly in the 1980's with call centers and back office operation due to the opportunity costs of such a development strategy? Historically, rural regions have fragmented development efforts and far fewer development organizations (as compared to urban regions). If those few are focused on call center recruitment, they would not have the fiscal/organizational capacity to focus on the entrepreneurial development of local, natural capital- based businesses.


Sandy - Thanks a ton for these thoughtful insights. Can't way to see your capstone. Like I said the paper blew me away. I have been meaning to look at those occupational definitions and I was so excited to see McGranahan and Wojan had used them. Let me think about your questions and discuss them with some of my team and get back to you.


I think the bottom line is that regions need to be considered the proper scale of development efforts. I've always believed that a region's natural capital and its role in economic growth is underestimated. My sense is that the urban/rural linkages really need further study. I just see tons of opportunity for both rural and urban regions if the entire region is developed concomitantly. Ignoring lagging rural regions drags the whole economy down (and makes rural people rather cross). Vibrant rural/urban development linkages provide regional markets for rural communities and increases the density of natural capital offerings for Urban regions. Competitive advantage for all. The life-cycle relationship is important also- I think regions should be seen as a federation of communities, in much the same way Jane Jacobs felt cities should be a federation of neighborhoods.

Frankly, I'm not certain practitioners will find these findings so amazing. A great deal has been done, without the benefit of corroboration from economists or policy makers for that matter. The Central Appalachian Network has done a paper on sustainable entrepreneurship. The contention is that the "regional flavor cluster"- (kind of a Richard Florida-Michael Porter hybrid- mostly because networks are a central component of their work, so clusters naturally lead to the efficiencies for service delivery. Yet the regional flavor component truly is creative class.)- they quote you. I've found this regional flavor dynamic to be a great way to communicate to rural development people and leaders how your work can be applied to rural regions. It's about developing the unique characteristics of a community, and bundling in businesses and services which enhance this uniqueness. That's the high end, added value natural capital businesses, along with the rich, street-level cultural components that never seem to find a home in rural communities. The things that make life worth living. (Music is very relevant, but to degrees and scale. Neil Takemoto addressed this in a cooltown posting)


Some people in rural America are hoping ethanol production will give them a competitive edge:

QUOTE=“We’re going to revitalize rural America,” said Read Smith, a farmer in eastern Washington and national co-chairman of a nonprofit group working with some of the biggest names in politics and philanthropy to have agriculture produce 25 percent of the nation’s energy needs by the year 2025. “We’re going to pull the plywood off the windows. We’re going to create a $700 billion per year industry that is not here today.”/QUOTE

Whatever its potentials for providing a susustainable energy alternative, farming apparently is not a creative enough occupation to stop plug the region's bright flight:

QUOTE=And even in small towns with a biorefinery that has been operating for some time, the new jobs and new money have not been enough to keep people from leaving. The Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company in Benson produces 45 million gallons of ethanol a year, which has led to an economic revival in a town with a little more than 3,000 people.

The plant has been in operation for 10 years. But young people are still walking away from Benson. The town and its surrounding county lost 5 percent of its population between 2000 and 2005, according to census estimates./QUOTE



It's Wojan. Tim Wojan, not Wojak. Wojak is the name he uses when fighting crime. Wojan is the name he uses when kicking research butt.

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